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MSC Floats Orchestra, Cuts Steel for Fantasia & Lays Panel for Poesia

Saturday, September 9 saw a triple-play for up-and-coming Italian line MSC Cruises (tel. 800/666-9333; www.msccruises.com), which over the past four years has built or bought five new ships and ordered another four from European shipyards. In one unusually full day at France's Aker Yards, the line witnessed the first float-out of the 90,000-ton Orchestra (due to debut in spring 2007), saw the first steel cut for sister-ship Poesia (due in 2008), and saw the first panel laid for construction of the big 133,500-ton Fantasia (also coming in '08). Panels are sections of steel plates and stiffeners that are welded together to form the hull, superstructure, and decking of a ship.

Orchestra and Poesia will be the second and third ships in MSC's Musica class, which debuted in June with the 2,550-passenger Musica. Fantasia and sister-ship Serenata will be the largest ships commissioned by a European ship owner to date, carrying 3,900 passengers apiece.

New Website Solocruiser Aids Solo Passengers with Deals, Networking

Solo cruisers rarely get a break. In a market in which cruise lines base their fares on two passengers occupying every stateroom, solos routinely get socked with "single supplements" -- fees that tack 50% or more onto their fare, just because they're lone wolves in a forest of couples. Some lines and agencies offer a service that pairs solo passengers with others traveling alone, to share a cabin and split the cost, but who likes being set up on a weeklong blind date?

Enter Solocruiser (www.solocruiser.com), a new online agency specializing in people traveling alone but not necessarily looking for a hook-up. The company offers three basic types of cruise experiences: escorted group cruises for guests aged 55+, group cruises themed on a specific interest (photography, culinary arts, etc.), and plain old low-cost deals for independent travelers, currently on lines like Holland America, Regent, Cunard, Silversea, Princess, NCL, and river line Amadeus Waterways. One of the site's more interesting features is its "roommate finder," a kind of personal ads section for traveling companions. The hitch? You have to make a deposit on a specific cruise before you can start your roommate search.

Disney Plans New Facilities for Wonder Following Dry-Dock

It's dry-dock season again, with ships going in for their annual once-overs. This year, Disney Cruise Line (tel. 888/DCL-2500; www.disneycruise.com) will be sending the 83,000-ton Disney Wonder in for an overhaul this October, fixing what needs to be fixed, replacing what needs to be replaced, and adding a few new public areas:

  • Toddler Pool: Up on Deck 9, a 385-square-foot extension to the kids' swimming pool will be specifically for toddlers in swim diapers, offering star- and moon-shaped interactive fountains and splash zones.
  • Piloting Simulator: In the Oceaneer Lab, a new computer simulator built as a replica of the ship's bridge will let kids 8-12 see what it's like to pilot a ship in and out of various ports. A giant video screen provides a view similar to that offered from the actual bridge.
  • Dress-Up Area: For kids 3-7, the Oceaneer Club will feature a revamp of its Captain's Closet dress-up area, creating more space for hands-on, interactive activities, plus computer and PlayStation areas.
  • Movie Screen: Following the lead of Princess and Carnival, Disney will be installing a 336-square-foot movie screen at the family pool on Deck 9, which will show animated and live-action Disney classics as well as popular TV shows and major sports events.
  • Private Spa Suites: At the ship's spa, three new "spa villas" will offer an indoor spa treatment suite connected to a private outdoor veranda with personal hot tub, open-air shower, chaise lounge and ocean views.
  • Expanded Gym: The square footage of the ship's fitness center will be doubled, adding more exercise equipment, an area for spinning classes and areas for private Pilates instruction and other consultations.
  • And a Waterfall Too!: The adults-only "Quiet Cove" pool will be rejiggered to add waterfalls that cascade from two hot tubs, plus teak deck and lounge chairs with plush cushions.

The additions and changes will all be affected in early October, in time for the ship's scheduled October 15 Bahamas cruise.

Princess Introduces Bus Service to New Brooklyn Cruise Terminal

Buses are so Brooklyn. Think Ralph Kramden. So, it's a perfect natural that Princess (tel. 800-PRINCESS; www.princess.com) plans to institute a new regional bus service to and from the new Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which opened in April and now serves as regional homeport for Princess's Crown Princess and Cunard's Queen Mary 2. Available as of May 2007 for summer Caribbean cruises and fall Canada/New England cruises, the service offers four pickup/drop-off routes:

  • DC Route: from Washington DC, stopping at Baltimore, Wilmington (Delaware), Philadelphia and Burlington (New Jersey)
  • Harrisburg Route: through Pennsylvania from Harrisburg, with stops at Lancaster, Reading, Allentown and Easton
  • Boston Route: From Boston, with stops in Worcester and Springfield (Massachusetts) and Hartford (Connecticut)
  • Providence Route: From Providence (Rhode Island), with stops throughout Connecticut in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport

The service is available from May 12 to October 13, 2007, with prices ranging from $100 to $155 per person, depending on pickup location.

Carnival to Add "Water Wars" Balloon Game Fleetwide

Hurling water at your friends and neighbors is a time-honored tradition. In Thailand, there's even a whole holiday devoted to it. And now you can do it on cruise ships too. Over the next nine months, Carnival (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) plans to add the Water Wars balloon game to all 22 of its ships. Set up like a basketball court with "battle stations" at either end, the game pits teams armed with water-balloon launchers against each other, with the object of, well, you know. Strategically placed holes in each fort allow the water to get through, pretty much whether your opponents have good aim or not.

The game is currently available on Carnival's Imagination and Fascination, and will be installed fleet-wide by summer 2007, located on ships' open decks adjacent to the main pool area.

Brooks & Dunn to Anchor Country Cruise Getaway 2007

Are you a country music fan with an itch to sail? Check out the 3-night Country Cruise Getaway (www.countrycruisegetaway.com) set for January 31 through February 3, 2007, aboard Carnival's 2,974-passenger Carnival Liberty. Sailing to the Bahamas, with stops in Nassau and Freeport, the cruise will include a concert by country superstars Brooks & Dunn as well as performances by Bill Engvall, Jypsi, Jamie O'Neil, Little Big Town and the Nashville Hitmakers. Activities will include line dancing lessons and "behind the music" Q&A sessions with all of the artists onboard.

Seabourn Adds Outdoor Dining Option

Seabourn Cruise Line (tel. 800/929-9391; www.seabourn.com) isn't usually considered "casual" in any sense of the word, but when the whole world seems to be going that way, even the bastions of formality must make concessions. Thus the line's earlier introduction of "Tastings@2," a casual dinner venue for multi-course tasting menus. Thus, too, the newest offering: freshly grilled seafood and sizzling steak dinners in the open air at the popular Sky Bar, set on Deck 8 atop each of the line's three ships.

"When the weather and the mood are right, there's no finer place to be than up at Seabourn's Sky Bar," says Seabourn president Deborah L. Natansohn. "I was up there one evening and I thought, Â?I'd really rather eat right here than dress and go down to the Restaurant.'"

Hear-hear.

Sky Grill Dinners are now scheduled a couple of nights per cruise, weather permitting, with about 40 guests (approximately one fifth of each ship's total capacity) able to attend, by reservation. The menu consists of seafood, steaks and other grilled items, and there is no additional charge.

Holland America Touts Toques for 2007 Culinary Cruises

Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) began its onboard Culinary Arts program in 2005, installing theater-style kitchens aboard all its ships and offering cooking demos and classes on every cruise, led by HAL's own executive chefs and culinary staff. Through a partnership deal with Food & Wine magazine, guest chefs, wine experts, and cookbook authors also appear on a regular basis, with more than forty already lined up for 2007, including:

  • Dave Lieberman, host of the Food Network programs Good Deal and Eat This: Ryndam, Panama Canal sailing, January 5-22.
  • Anthony Marini, owner/executive chef of Local Restaurant (Birmingham, AL): Veendam, Caribbean, January 6-14.
  • Suvir Saran, co-executive chef of Devi (New York City) and Veda (New, Delhi) and author of Indian Home Cooking: Rotterdam, South America, January 11-31; Amsterdam Grand World Voyage, March 5-22.
  • Anoosh Shariat, director of culinary operations, Park Place on Main (Louisville, KY): Statendam, Australia/New Zealand, January 19-February 2.
  • Paulette Mitchell, author of eleven cookbooks and culinary instructor: Ryndam, Hawaii/Tahiti/Marquesas , January 22-February 21; Prinsendam, Mediterranean and transatlantic, November 3-24.
  • Keegan Gerhard, pastry chef and Food Network host: Amsterdam, Grand World Voyage, January 23-February 4.
  • Jason Wilson, chef/owner, Crush (Seattle, WA): Oosterdam, Mexico, January 27-February 3.
  • H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, executive chefs, Keyah Grande, Resort (Pagosa Springs, CO): Statendam, Australia/New, Zealand, February 2-16.
  • Victor Scargle, chef, Julia's Kitchen at COPIA Center (Napa, CA): Statendam, Australia/New Zealand, February 16-March 2.
  • Richard Chamberlain, executive chef, Chamberlain's Steak and Chop House (Dallas, TX) and Envy (Las Vegas, NV): Zuiderdam, Caribbean, February 17-24.
  • Matthew Karp, owner/executive chef, PLATES (Larchmont, NY): Veendam, Caribbean, February 18-25.
  • Holly Turner, winemaker, Three Rivers Winery (Walla Walla, WA): Oosterdam, Mexico, March 3-10.
  • Emily Luchetti, cookbook author, executive pastry chef, Farallon (San Francisco, CA), and 2004 James Beard Award winner for Best Pastry Chef: Rotterdam, South America, March 7-20.
  • Thierry Rautureau, chef/owner, Rover's (Seattle, WA): Westerdam, Caribbean, March 4-11.
  • Marcus Samuelsson, executive chef Aquavit and Riingo (New York City): Noordam, Caribbean, March 10-21.
  • Shea Gallante, executive chef, Cru (New York City), and 2005 Food & Wine Best New Chef: Zuiderdam, Caribbean, March 10-17.
  • Rafih Benjelloun, chef/owner, Imperial Fez (Atlanta, GA): Prinsendam, Transatlantic , March 12-April 9.
  • Raphael Lunetta, chef, JiRaffe (Los Angeles, CA), and 1997 Food & Wine Best New Chef: Rotterdam, South America, March 20-April 5.
  • Linton Hopkins, executive chef, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta, GA): Zuiderdam, Caribbean, April 7-14.
  • Beau MacMillan, executive chef, Elements Restaurant (Paradise Valley, AZ): Noordam, Caribbean, April 11-21.
  • Ryan Magarian, master mixologist, Liquid Kitchen (Seattle, WA): Amsterdam, Grand World Voyage, April 13-20.
  • Johnny Iuzinni, executive pastry chef, Jean-Georges (New York City): Rotterdam, South America to Europe, transatlantic, April 5-20.
  • Bradford Thompson, chef de cuisine, Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician, (Scottsdale, AZ) and 2004 Food & Wine Best New Chef: Statendam, China/Japan, April 19-May 3.
  • Michael Symon, executive chef, Lola (Cleveland, OH) and Parea (New York, City), 1998 Food & Wine Best New Chef: Veendam, Mediterranean, April 19-29.
  • Ken Oringer, chef, Clio (Boston, MA): Statendam, transpacific Asia and Alaska , May 3-20.
  • Julie Reiner, co-owner/mixologist, Flatiron Lounge (New York City): Rotterdam, Europe, May 14-30.
  • Dean Max, executive chef, 30/30 Ocean (Ft. Lauderdale, FL): Veendam, Mediterranean, May 19-29.
  • Alexandra Guarnaschelli, executive chef, Butter (New York City): Rotterdam, Baltic, May 30-June 11.
  • Philip Mihalski, executive chef, Nell's (Seattle, WA): Amsterdam, Alaska, June 8-15.
  • Marlin Kaplan, executive chef/owner, One Walnut (Cleveland, OH): Veendam, Europe, June 8-23.
  • Jose Gutierrez, master chef, Encore (Memphis, TN), 1990 Food & Wine Best New Chef: Westerdam, Mediterranean, June 9-19.
  • Andrew Carmellini, executive chef, A Voce (New York City), 2000 Food &, Wine Best New Chef and 2005 James Beard Award winner for Best New York City Chef: Rotterdam, Baltic, June 23-July 5.
  • Brian Duncan, wine director, Bin 36 (Chicago, IL): Prinsendam, Europe, June 26-July 10.
  • Matthew Gennuso, executive chef, Chez Pascal (Providence, RI): Maasdam, Canada/New England , June 30-July 7.
  • Pichet Ong, pastry chef, P*ONG (New York City): Noordam, Alaska, July 1-8.
  • Peter Marks, wine director, COPIA (Napa, CA): Oosterdam, Alaska, July 28-August 4.
  • Bruce Sherman, chef and partner, North Pond (Chicago, IL): Ryndam, Alaska , August 5-12.
  • Nick Maglieri, pastry chef, cookbook author: Zaandam, Alaska, August 22-29.
  • Andrew Shotts, chocolatier, Garrison Confections (Providence, RI): Veendam, transatlantic, August 22-September 9.
  • David McMillan, executive chef, 62 Main (Dallas, TX): Westerdam, Mediterranean, September 8-18.
  • Fran Bigelow, founder, Fran's Chocolate (Seattle, WA): Rotterdam, Europe, September 18-30.
  • Kent Rathbun, executive chef, Abacus and Jasper?s (Dallas, TX): Volendam, Panama Canal, November 3-13.
  • Michael Bloise, executive chef, WISH (Miami, FL): Statendam, Australia/New Zealand, November 4-18.

HAL's Culinary Arts centers are set up like TV-style demo kitchens, offering cooking demonstrations to passenger audiences and then broadcasting them later on in-cabin TVs. Demos are usually offered twice per seven-day cruise.

Crystal Announces 2007 Theme Cruises, 2008 World Cruise

Luxe line Crystal Cruises (tel. 888/799-4625; www.crystalcruises.com) plans to offer a dozen themes on 26 different cruises for 2007 -- more than a third of the total voyages being sailed by the 1,080-passenger Crystal Serenity and 940-passenger Crystal Symphony. Themes will include:

  • Big Band & Ballroom Dance: Crystal will add dance instruction to a transatlantic Big Band cruise, recalling the gilded days of oceanic crossings (November 9: 10-day transatlantic, Lisbon to Miami; Crystal Serenity).
  • Cabaret at Sea: The Mabel Mercer Foundation, named for the legendary cabaret performer, celebrates great American composers (March 4: 7-day Mexican Riviera, round-trip Los Angeles; Crystal Symphony).
  • Mind, Body & Spirit: Guest instructors focus on yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and overall wellness on board and ashore (February 25: 7-day Mexican Riviera, round-trip from Los Angeles; Crystal Symphony. November 19: 11-day Panama Canal, Miami to Costa Rica; Crystal Serenity).
  • Comprehensive Creative Learning Institute: Expanded curriculums of progressive study will be offered in music, art and language (March 11: 17-day transpacific, Los Angeles to Hong Kong; Crystal Symphony). A computer course at the line's Computer University@Sea offers transferable college credit during Crystal Serenity's 2007 World Cruise.
  • Crystal Comedy Club at Sea: Featuring talented comedians from the nation's top comedy clubs (January 5: 7-day Caribbean, round-trip from Miami; Crystal Serenity).
  • Film & Theatre Festival: Guest speakers and film authorities salute films and theater during a London to New York transatlantic crossing (August 31: 14-day transatlantic, London to New York; Crystal Symphony).
  • Golf: PGA instructors and golf celebrities host clinics and share stories of the PGA Tour. Optional Crystal Adventures shore excursions offer play at famous courses throughout the British Isles (August 20: 11-day British Isles, round-trip from London; Crystal Symphony).
  • Jazz: Ensembles and experts explore the art of jazz on a cruise through the Caribbean (December 1: 7-day Caribbean, round-trip from Miami; Crystal Symphony).
  • President's Cruise: Company president Gregg L. Michel and his family host a special Canary Islands sailing (October 28: 12-day Canary Islands, Rome to Lisbon; Crystal Serenity).
  • Smithsonian Journeys: Destination-specific lectures from the cultural and educational arm of the Smithsonian Institution enrich destinations steeped in centuries of history, from China and Southeast Asia to Turkey, Greece, and Italy (February 14: 17-day South America & Africa, Buenos Aires to Cape Town; Crystal Serenity. March 29: 14-day China & Japan, Hong Kong to Beijing; Crystal Symphony. April 20: 11-day Southeast Asia, Hong Kong to Singapore; Crystal Symphony. May 25: 12-day Mediterranean, Istanbul to Venice; Crystal Serenity, October 17: 11-day Mediterranean, Athens to Rome; Crystal Serenity).
  • Tall Ships Cruise: Tall ships sail the Baltic during the world's largest sailing event (July 29: 11-day Baltic Sea & Russia, Stockholm to Copenhagen; Crystal Symphony).

Crystal Wine & Food Festival: World-renowned chefs and wine experts share their talents at lectures, special meals, and tastings on board and ashore during the line's 11th annual festival, offered on ten different voyages:

  • January 12: 15-day South America, Miami to Valparíaso; Crystal Serenity
  • February 11: 14-day Panama Canal, Miami to Los Angeles, Crystal Symphony
  • April 19: 12-day Western Europe, Rome to London, Crystal Serenity
  • May 1: 12-day Western Europe, London to Rome; Crystal Serenity
  • May 17: 14-day Africa & Red Sea, Dubai to Rome; Crystal Symphony
  • May 25: 12-day Mediterranean, Istanbul to Venice; Crystal Serenity
  • August 9: 11-day Western Europe, Copenhagen to London; Crystal Symphony
  • October 6: 11-day Mediterranean/Egypt, Istanbul to Athens; Crystal Serenity
  • October 24: 11-day New England, Montréal to Miami; Crystal Symphony
  • November 4: 10-day Panama Canal, Miami to Costa Rica; Crystal Symphony

For those who want it all, the line's 2008 world cruise will visit Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, India, Northern Africa, and the Mediterranean during a 108-day circuit departing from Los Angeles on January 19, 2008. Highlights of the journey include overnight stays in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, India, Egypt, and Monaco, plus maiden calls at Crete/Aghios Nikoloas (Greece) and La Coruna and Valencia (Spain). The voyage ends at Southampton, England, on May 7. Fares will be available in mid-October.

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